Big technology companies were a big target during Tuesday night’s debate in Ohio of the leading Democratic presidential candidates.
No new candidate joined Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s pledge to break up Facebook, Amazon and Google, with the possible exception of billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer.
But almost all who commented on the topic dumped on Silicon Valley powerhouses over their use of private data, their promotion of addictive screen-time behavior, and their alleged refusal to better police the content that appears online.
And everyone who commented on antitrust enforcement said they would appoint more vigorous and trust-busting law enforcement.
Section 230 implicitly criticized by Beto O’Rourke
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas promoted his arguments against Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act, a proposal to take liability away from internet companies don’t do more to remove hate speech from their web sites.
Without referring specifically to Section 230, his comments suggested that Facebook needs to take affirmative responsible as a “publisher” for all the content on its platform:
- Right now, we treat them functionally as a utility, when, in reality, they’re more akin to a publisher. They curate the content that we see. Our pictures and personal information that they share with others, we would allow no publisher to do what Facebook is doing, to publish that ad that Senator Warren has rightfully called out, that CNN has refused to air because it is untrue and tells lies about the vice president, treat them like the publisher that they are. That’s what I will do as president.
And while O’Rourke said he would “be unafraid to break up big businesses if we have to do that,” he criticized Warren for singling out particular companies. “I don’t think it is the role of a president or a candidate for the presidency to specifically call out which companies will be broken up.”
Andrew Yang wants a data check in the mail
In this tech-bashing segment of the debate, former tech executive Andrew Yang had the first word and the last word.
His first word was that breaking up big tech wasn’t the solution to reviving Main Street businesses because “network efforts” are a powerful forcing driving what is commonly referred to as a “winner take all” economy.
“And as the parent of two young children, I’m particularly concerned about screen use and its effect on our children. Studies clearly show that we’re seeing record levels of anxiety and depression coincident with smartphone adoption and social media use.”
He didn’t get a chance in that first answer to elaborate on the “21st century solutions” that he would use — as opposed to making use of Warren’s “20th century antitrust framework.”
But in his close-out remarks in the segment, he zeroed in on data privacy legislation as one way to turn the tide against the power of Big Tech:
- The best way we can fight back against big tech companies is to say our data is our property. Right now, our data is worth more than oil. How many of you remember getting your data check in the mail? It got lost. It went to Facebook, Amazon, Google. If we say this is our property and we share in the gains, that’s the best way we can balance the scales against the big tech companies.
Bizarre exchange between Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren over Trump and Twitter
Perhaps the weirdest interaction during the roughly 15-minute segment of the three-hour debate came when Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., vainly attempted to pin Warren down on her own pet peeve: Pushing President Trump off of Twitter.
Two weeks ago, Harris told CNN that Twitter should suspend Trump’s use of the social media platform because of his “irresponsible” use of the platform, and that he was “using his words in a way that could subject someone to harm.”
When Harris got the platform on the topic on Tuesday night, she pivoted from blasting Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for making a “ridiculous argument” about election disinformation to chiding Warren, the intellectual leader of the Democratic pack.
“I was surprised to hear that you did not agree with me that on this subject of what should be the rules around corporate responsibility for these big tech companies, when I called on Twitter to suspend Donald Trump’s account,” Harris said.
“So, look, I don’t just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter,” Warren replied. “I want to push him out of the White House. That’s our job.”
On the issue of breaking up Facebook, Google and Amazon, Warren stood her ground: “Look, I’m not willing to give up and let a handful of monopolists dominate our economy and our democracy.”
“We need to enforce our antitrust laws, break up these giant companies that are dominating, big tech, big pharma, big oil, all of them,” she said.
But Warren appeared disinclined to talk specifically about Big Tech, and kept coming back to “the elephant in the room, and that is how campaigns are financed.”
Continuing, Warren said, “I announced this morning that I’m not going to take any money from big tech executives, from Wall Street executives. We’ve already agreed, Bernie and I, we’re not taking any money from big pharma executives. You can’t go behind closed doors and take the money of these executives and then turn around and expect that these are the people who are actually finally going to enforce the laws. We need campaign finance rules and practices.”
Other views on big tech and antitrust
Steyer used his less-than-two-minutes-of-fame on the topic to “agree with Sen. Warren that, in fact, monopolies have to be dealt with. They either have to be broken up or regulated, and that’s part of it.”
But he quickly pivoted to promoting his biography as a billionaire:
- In fact, if we want to beat Mr. Trump, I think somebody who can go toe to toe with him and show him to be a fraud and a failure as a businessperson, and a fraud and a failure as a steward of the American economy is going to be necessary. He is one. His tax plan’s a failure. His trade war is a failure. I would love to take him on as a real businessman and show that, in fact, he’s failed the American people, and he has to go.
Senators Cory Booker, of New Jersey, Amy Klobachur, of Minnesota, and Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, all said they would be more aggressive in antitrust enforcement.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg did not weigh in on the subject., and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was cut off when she began to comment on tech.
‘Time is Now’ for Separate Big Tech Regulatory Agency, Public Interest Group Says
‘We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late.’
WASHINGTON, June 21, 2022 – Public Knowledge, non-profit public interest group, further advocated Thursday support for the Digital Platform Commission Act introduced in the Senate in May that would create a new federal agency designed to regulate digital platforms on an ongoing basis.
“We need to recognize that absolutely the time is now. It is neither too soon nor too late,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge.
The DPCA, introduced by Senator Michael Bennet, D-CO., and Representative Peter Welch, D-VT., would, if adopted, create a new federal agency designed to “provide comprehensive, sector-specific regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest.”
The independent body would conduct hearings, research and investigations all while promoting competition and establishing rules with appropriate penalties.
Public Knowledge primarily focuses on competition in the digital marketplace. It champions for open internet and has openly advocated for antitrust legislation that would limit Big Tech action in favor of fair competition in the digital marketspace.
Feld published a book in 2019 titled, “The Case for the Digital Platform Act: Breakups, Starfish Problems and Tech Regulation.” In it, Feld explains the need for a separate government agency to regulate digital platforms.
Digital regulation is new but has rapidly become critical to the economy, continued Feld. As such, it is necessary for the government to create a completely new agency in order to provide the proper oversight.
In the past, Congress empowered independent bodies with effective tools and expert teams when it lacked expertise to oversee complex sectors of the economy but there is no such body for digital platforms, said Feld.
FTC Commissioner Concerned About Antitrust Impact on Already Rising Consumer Prices
Noah Phillips said Tuesday he wants the commission to think about the impact of antitrust rules on rising prices.
WASHINGTON, May 17, 2022 – Rising inflation should be a primary concern for the Federal Trade Commission when considering antitrust regulations on Big Tech, said Commissioner Noah Phillips Tuesday.
When considering laws, “the important thing is what impact it has on the consumer,” said Phillips. “We need to continue to guard like a hawk against conduct and against laws that have the effect of raising prices for consumers.”
Current record highs in the inflation rate, which means money is becoming less valuable as products become more expensive, has meant Washington must become sensitive to further price increases that could come out of such antitrust legislation, the commissioner said.
Phillips did not comment on how such movies would mean higher prices, but that signals, such as theHouse Judiciary Committee’s antitrust report two years ago, that reign in Big Tech companies and bring back enforcement of laws could mean higher prices. He raised concerns that recent policies are prohibiting competition rather than facilitating it.
This follows recent concerns that the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, currently awaiting Senate floor consideration, will inhibit America’s global competitiveness by weakening major American companies, thus impairing the American economy. That legislation would prohibit platform owners from giving preference to their products against third-party products.
This act is one of many currently under consideration at Congress, including Ending Platform Monopolies Act and Platform Competition and Opportunity Act.
Small businesses have worried that by enacting some legislation targeting Big Tech, they would be impacted because they rely on such platforms for success.
Critics and Supporters Trade Views on American Innovation and Choice Online Act
American Innovation and Choice Online Act is intended to protect fair competition among businesses, but panelists differed on its impact.
WASHINGTON, May 10, 2022 – Experts differed on the effect that antitrust legislation targeting big tech companies allegedly engaging in discriminatory behavior would have on small businesses.
Small businesses “want Congress not to do anything that will screw up or weaken the services that they rely on for their business,” said Michael Petricone, senior vice present of the Consumer Technology Association, at a Protocol Live event on Thursday.
Petricone said that antitrust bill would encourage tech companies to relocate to other countries, harming the American economy. He said small businesses would be affected the most.
Instead, Petricone called for a “smarter immigration policy” to allow foreign innovators access to American tech market, as well as the defeat of the antitrust legislation.
But other said that small businesses suffer from predatory behavior by big tech companies. “Companies can’t get their foot in the door when there is already self-preferencing,” said Awesta Sarkash, representative for Small Business Majority, an advocacy organization, adding that 80% of small businesses say they want antitrust laws to protect them.
Self-preferencing on online platforms is detrimental to the success of small businesses who rely on social media advertising for business, she said. The new antitrust proposals would ensure an level playing field and promote fair competition, she said.
The American Innovation and Choice Online Act would prohibit certain online platforms from unfairly preferencing products, limiting another business’ ability to operate on a platform, or discriminating against competing products and services.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, was introduced to the Senate on May 2 and is awaiting Senate floor consideration.
The debate follows concerns raised by both democrats and republicans about America’s global competitiveness as the bill would weaken major American companies.
If passed, the bill will follow the European Union’s Digital Services Act which similarly sets accountability standards for online platforms, preventing potentially harmful content and behavior.
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